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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Lawsuit filed over Maui water deal

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui — The filing of a lawsuit in Maui Circuit Court halted action yesterday on a proposed agreement between four major landowners and the Board of Water Supply.

The citizens planning group Maui Tomorrow and its president, Mark Sheehan, accuse the water board of having secret negotiations on the agreement in violation of the state's sunshine law and of allocating water from the '?ao Aquifer without legal authorization.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, said the agreement would give priority to the four developers over Hawaiian homesteaders, farmers and those who have been on a waiting list for water meters.

After public testimony at a board meeting yesterday, members adjourned without taking any action. The matter is expected to be raised at a regular board meeting tomorrow, but Chairman Elmer Cravalho said after yesterday's meeting that he doubts a decision on the proposed agreement would be made then.

The landowners are private partners in the Central Maui Source Joint Venture, which originally signed an agreement with the water board in 1975 that led to the development of Kihei, Wailea and Makena. The agreement called for the partnership to receive 19 million gallons a day as their share for building wells and transmission lines, but after it was discovered that the aquifer's sustainable yield had been grossly overestimated, county water officials sought to revise the deal.

Those efforts continued unsuccessfully for 15 years, until a three-member negotiating committee announced last week that it had finally struck a deal.

The proposed agreement would reserve 8.9 million gallons of water a day from the 'Iao Aquifer for Makena Resort, Wailea Development Co., Hawai'i Land and Farming Co. Inc. (formerly C. Brewer) and A&B Properties Inc. The joint venture partners have agreed to contribute up to $1.5 million interest-free to develop another well, with the Department of Water Supply matching that amount.

Water board member Jonathan Starr has criticized the proposed agreement as favoring the developers. Cravalho said he, too, has reservations about the deal, but he would not elaborate.

The Sierra Club also opposes the agreement, saying the island's water resources are a public trust, and cannot be dealt away in exchange for a loan to provide a new source.